« PredošláPokračovať »
their faces are turned heaven-ward, he obliges them never to think of returning to their former state and company, or subject themselves to the tyranny they are delivered from: as the angel ordered Lot, when he was escaped out of Sodom, not so much as to look back, as one that had a hankering mind to what he had left behind him; or like the Israelites, who longed for the onions and garlic, and the flesh-pots of Egypt, when they were on their journey towards the good land, which God had promised them. Thus Christ expects that all his subjects should not only obey him, but that they should do this with unfainting perseverance, as not being of them who draw back unto perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul, Heb. x. 39. Thus concerning their present obligations and future advantages, together with the duties they are engaged to perform; or the laws of Christ's kingdom, which he makes known to them, before they are brought into subjection to him.
And to this we may add, that he not only presents to them the bright, but the dark side of the cloud, and sets before them the many difficulties and troubles, they are like to meet with in this world, in common with the rest of his subjects, that they may not hereafter be under any temptation, to complain as though they were disappointed, when things go otherwise than they were given to expect : as with one hand he represents to their view the crown of life; so, with the other, he holds forth the cross, which they must take up and follow him, Matt. xvi. 24. if they would be his disciples. He does not conceal from them the evils they are like to meet with from the world, but tells them plainly, that they must expect to be hated of all men for his name sake, Matt. x. 22. and be willing to part with all things for him, especially if standing in competition with him; so that he who loveth father or mother, son or daughter, yea, his own life, more than him, is not worthy of him, ver. 37, compared with Luke xiv. 26. and, that self-denial must be their daily exercise, that no idol of jealousy must be set up in their hearts; no secret or darling lust indulged, as being not only contrary to the temper and disposition of his subjects, and a dishonour to their character, but inconsistent with that supreme love that is due to him alone: he also warns them not to hold any confederacy with his enemies, strictly forbids them to make any covenant with death and hell, and requires that all former covenants therewith should be disannulled and broken, as containing a tacit denial of their allegiance to him.
Thus concerning the methods which Christ useth in an objective way, to bring his people to his kingdom. But these are not regarded by the greatest part of those that sit under the sound of the gospel ; nor, indeed, are they effectual to answer this end in any, till he is pleased to incline and enable them, by his power, to submit to him; he must first conquer them before they will obey. Before this they had no more than an external overture, or representation of things, in which he dealt with them as intelligent creatures, in order to their becoming his subjects out of choice, as having the strongest motives and inducements thereunto: but this is an internal work upon the heart, whereby every thing, that hindered their compliance is removed, and they are drawn by that power, without which none can come unto him, John vi. 44. their hearts are broken, their wills renewed, and all the powers and faculties of their souls inclined to subscribe to his government, as king of saints, This leads us to consider,
3. How persons first express their willingness to be Christ's subjects; what engagements they lay themselves under, and what course they take pursuant thereunto.
(1.) They cast themselves at his feet with the greatest humility and reverence, being sensible of their own vileness and ingratitude, and, at the same time, are greatly affected with his clemency and grace, who, notwithstanding their unworthiness, invites them to come to him ; which they do, not as desiring to capitulate, or stand upon terms with him, but they are willing that he should make his own terms, like one that sends a blank paper to his victorious prince, that he might write upon it what he pleases, and expresses his willingness to subscribe it. This may be illustrated by the manner in which Benhadad's servants, when his army was entirely ruined, and he no longer able to make resistance against Ahab, present themselves before him with sackcloth on their loins, and ropes on their heads, in token of the greatest humility, together with an implicit acknowledgment of what they had deserved; and without the usual method of entering into treaties of peace, the only mes. sage they were to deliver was, Thy servant Benhadad saith, I pray thee let me live, 1 Kings XX. 32. Thus the humble returning sinner implores forgiveness, and a right to his life, as an act of grace, at the hand of Christ, who has been represented to him, as a merciful king, and ready to receive returning sinners.
(2.) This subjection to Christ is attended with the greatest love to, and desire after him, which they express to his person, and his service, as well as those rewards that attend it, being constrained hereunto by that love and compassion, which he hath shewed to them; and by those just ideas which they are now brought to entertain, concerning every thing that belongs to his kingdom and interest,
(3.) They consent to be the Lord's, by a solemn act of selfdedication, or surrender of themselves, and all that they have, to him, as seeing themselves obliged so to do; and therefore
they desire to be his, to all intents and purposes, his entirely, and for ever.
(4.) Since there are many difficult duties incumbent on Christ's subjects, and many blessings which they hope to receive, they express their entire dependance on him for grace, to enable them to behave themselves agreeably to the obligations they are under, that they may not turn aside from him, or deal treacherously with him, as being unsteadfast in his covenant: they also rely on his faithfulness for the accomplishment of all the promises, which afford matter of relief and encouragement to them; and this is accompanied with a fixed purpose, or resolut on to wait on him, in all his ordinances, as means appointed by him, in which they hope to obtain those blessings they stand in need of.
(5.) This is done with a solemn withdrawing themselves from, renouncing and testifying their abhorrence of those to whom they have formerly been in subjection, whose interest is contrary to and subversive of Christ's government. These they count to be their greatest, yea, their only enemies, and proclaim open war against them, and that with a fixed resolution, by the grace of God, to pursue it to the utmost ; like the courageous soldier, who, having drawn his sword, throws away the scabbard, as one that will not leave off fighting till he has gained a complete victory; and this resolution is increased by that hatred which he entertains against sin, and is exercised in proportion to it: the enemies against whom he engages, are the world, the flesh, and the devil; the motives that induce him thereunto are because they are enemies to Christ, and stand in the way of his salvation. Now, that he might manage this warfare with success, he takes to himself the whole armour of God, which the apostle describes, Eph. vi. 11-17. which is both offensive and defensive. And he also considers himself as obliged to shun all treaties or proposals made by them, to turn him aside from Christ, and all correspondence with them, and to avoid every thing that may prove a snare or temptation to him, or tend to Christ's dishonour.
And to this we may add, that he hath a due sense of his obligation, to endeavour to deliver others from their servitude to sin and Satan, to encourage those who are almost persuaded to submit to Christ, and to strengthen the hands of those who are already entered into his service, engaged with him in the same warfare against his enemies, and pursuing the same design, conducive to his glory. The methods he takes in order hereunto, are truly warrantable, and becoming the servants of Christ: he is not like the scribes and Pharisees, who were very zealous to gain proselytes to their interest, which, when they had done, they made them two-fold more the children of hell than
themselves, Matt. xxiii. 15. but makes it his business to con: vince those he converses with, that they are subject to the greatest tyranny of those who intend nothing but their ruin; that they serve them who have no right to their service, and, that the only way to obtain liberty, is to enter into Christ's service, and then they will be free indeed, John viii. 36. Moreover, he endeavours to remove those prejudices, and answer all objections which Satan usually brings, or furnishes his subjects with, against Christ and his government. If they say, with the daughters of Jerusalem, What is thy beloved more than another beloved? he has many things to say in his commendation; as, the church is brought in using various metaphorical expressions to set forth his glory, and he joins with them in that comprehensive character given of him, which contains the sum of all that words can express, He is altogether lovely; this is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Ferusalem, Cant. v. 9, 16. This concerning the way in which Christ's subjects engage against, and oppose Satan's kingdom.
But let it be farther considered, that the opposition is mu. tual : when persons are delivered out of the power of darkness, and translated into Christ's kingdom, they are not to expect to be wholly free from the assaults of their spiritual enemies, and these oftentimes gain great advantages against them from the remainders of corrupt nature, in the best of men. The devil is represented, by the apostle, as a roaring lion, who walketh about seeking whom he may devour, 1 Pet. v. 8. Sometimes he gives disturbance to Christ's subjects, by inclining men to exercise their persecuting rage and fury against the church, designing hereby to work upon their fears; at other times, he endeavours, as it were, by methods of bribery, to engage unstable persons in his interest, by the overture of secular advantage ; or else to discourage soine, by pretending that religion is a melancholy thing, that they who embrace it, are like to strive against the stream, and meet with nothing but what will make them uneasy in the world. This opposition, which is directed against Christ's kingdom, proves oftentimes very discouraging to his subjects; but there are attempts of another nature often used to amuse, discourage, and destroy their peace, by taxing them with hypocrisy, and pretending, that all their hope of an interest in Christ's favour and protection, is but a delusion, and therefore it had been better for them not to have given in their names to him, since the only consequence thereof will be the aggravating their condemnation. If the providences of 'God be dark and afflictive, he endeavours to suggest to them hard thoughts of Christ, and to make them question his goodness, and faithfulness, and to say, with the Psalmist, Verily, I have cleansed my heart in vain, and have washed my hands in inno
cency, Psal. lxxiii. 13. and, when God is pleased, at any time, for wise ends, to deny them his comforting presence, the enemy is ready, on this occasion, to persuade them, as the Psalm. ist represents some speaking to the like purpose, that there is 120 help for them in God, Psal. iii. 2.
These methods are often used, by the enemies of Christ's kingdom, to weaken the hands of his subjects, whereby the ex. ercise of their graces is often interrupted, and they are hurried into many sins, through the violence of temptation ; nevertheless they shall not wholly revolt. Grace may be foiled, and weakened thereby, but it shall not be utterly extinguished; for, though they be guilty of many failures and miscarriages, which discover them to be in an imperfect state, yet they are preserved from relapsing into their former state; and not only so, but are often enabled to prevail against their spiritual enemies
, in which the concern of Christ, for their good, eminently discovers itself; and, if the advancage gained against them be occasioned by their going in the way of temptation, or not being ce their guard, or using those means that might prevent their be ing overcome thereby, this is over-ruled by Christ, to the humbling and making them more watchful for the future; or if God has left them to themselves, that he may shew them the sin and folly of their self-confidence, or reliance on their own strength, this shall be a means to induce them to be more de pendent on him for the future, as well as importunate with him, by faith and prayer, for that grace, which is sufficient to prevent their total and final apostasy, as well as to recover them from their present back-slidings. And these many weaknessti and defects, which gave them so much uneasiness, will induce them to sympathize with others in the like condition; and the various methods which Christ takes for their recovery, render them skilful in directing others how to escape, or disentangle themselves from this snare, in which they have been taken, and which has given them so much uneasiness.
We might here have enlarged on that particular branch of this subject, which respects the warfare that is to be carried on by every one who lists himself under Christ's banner, and owns him to be his rightful Lord and Sovereign, which takes up! very considerable part of the Christian life; as he is said to wrestle not only against flesh and blood, but against principali. ties, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, and against spiritual wickedness in high places, Eph. vi
. 12. and elsewhere we read of the flesh lusting against the Spir rit , and the Spirit against the
flesh, Gal. v. 17. But this will be considered under a following answer, in which we shall be led to speak of the imperfection of sanctification in believers,